UNPAID INTERNSHIP: the exploitation of young persons to work for long lengths of time, even months, without pay, travel reimbursements, and most importantly without a guaranteed opportunity at the company that they have been working for.
It was during one of my first ever classes at university, when one of my professors explained to us that it was “absolutely necessary” we complete several internships during our time of study as a degree is worth nothing without experience, too. When we graduated, we were then told by the same professionals, neighbors, relatives and so on that our degrees and work experience were worth nothing without knowing someone at a company, because it is all about “who you know.” If you were a part of the lucky few who were placed in a decent enough position with a company, your colleagues then reminded you that “everyone is replaceable, there is no such thing as employee loyalty, and everyone is disposable.”
I’m currently a graduate, residing in the U.S., where not only is it unbearable to try and find work, but exhausting and deflating – with little hope or confidence. The basic notion is that you need a referral from friends who work at companies to obtain a position there. Even the majority of bars require you to have a friend referral. Coffee shops are having potential employees spend half an hour filling out questionnaires before allowing them to submit an application. These same coffee shops and cafes are asking interviewees questions such as ‘how would you sell a pen to a customer?’ I then ask myself, when did that become relevant to someone working at a coffee shop or cafe? A place that on average is not considered a long term career choice, especially for graduates.
Companies are mail-merging generic emails, announcing that you have made it through to second phases, however with no promise of a telephone interview. I even had an email that specifically said, “you are one of thousands who has applied,” yes thousands. The rats in these ‘rat races’ are multiplying and fast, while very few rats are getting hired. Most of the rats that are getting hired at companies are getting hired on a need-to-know someone basis.
Some companies are offering compensation to employees who refer a successful candidate; these compensations are lump sums that range from $2,000 and up. Without knowing the exact number, about half of the jobs posted online or on job boards are either being filled internally, offered to family members of current employees, or friends. Graduates that you never thought would achieve a career so quickly, are being handed the position on a golden plate, just because they know someone.
The UNpaid Internship
So we now know we have to complete internships to achieve working knowledge and experience of ‘real’ work environments and the ‘real’ world outside of university. Therefore, during my time at college, I completed at least four internships, unpaid, before graduating. Due to personal circumstances, I had to leave my graduate job in the UK and move back to the states, where in a year of living back here, I have been unable to obtain a steady graduate position at a reliable company with a fair graduate wage and am therefore in between jobs at present; gearing up to take a server position at a restaurant for the promise of good tips.
I have thought outside the box, made business connections, emailed companies that haven’t even posted positions online to ask whether or not they were hiring and so on. One PR company in particular, knowing that I sought a paid position as I clearly stated in my cover letter, allowed me to drive 40 minutes to Boca, to only offer me an UNpaid internship. The man who interviewed me, said that I had a fantastic background but all that he could offer me was an unpaid internship. I turned around to him and told him that I was 24 years old, had already done four internships, could not afford to work for free anymore or afford the gas required to get to and from this company. Besides the obvious points that I made, why would I work for 4 months unpaid for a position that I was not guaranteed?
I could write an entire book on companies that have offered me unpaid internships, or friends that have gone through and are still going through the same thing. This book would include true tales such as my experiences of watching several interns knowingly fight for months for one position at a magazine. My experiences and knowledge of this slave labor stretches across the Atlantic, however the US is quicker to exploit young workers than other countries in the westernized world. Many companies in the UK, Europe and Australia offer graduate schemes by which a graduate is hired, paid and trained to company standards and after only one year is then offered a full time position with the company. The US on the other hand doesn’t really offer such graduate schemes, but instead takes on high school students and wealthy college graduates who can afford to work months on end, unpaid.
What if the US Intern Labor Rights was to make this ever-growing slave labor illegal? What if an intern wage was enforced? Companies would argue that they can’t afford to pay out for an intern, yet if they have that much work that needs doing, surely their company is doing well enough and therefore can afford to pay out. If you really think about it, companies don’t take on interns to ‘help interns’, because when it comes down to business and money making, companies are going to have interns to save the company money and to ‘help themselves’. An enforced intern wage would make sure that both the intern and the company are benefiting from this type of work experience called an unpaid internship. For as the article that I’ve shared below clearly states:
The fashion industry is a for-profit industry — it’s not like they’re working not-for-profit arts organizations. They’re making billions of dollars and the fact that they’re asking their students to donate their labor to these businesses is really outrageous,” Walsh said. “We’re trying to persuade people and educate people at the same time.”
There is an increasingly crazy number of graduates who aren’t finding work, or any job that earns them enough to even begin to pay off their student loans debt. This is because these graduates are having to work jobs such as retail mall jobs, serving at restaurants, or making coffees at Starbucks. Thousands of students are graduating each year, while thousands of graduates still can’t find work. This problem could slowly be resolved if every functioning company in the US created a graduate job or scheme instead of taking on unpaid interns. There would be thousands if not millions more jobs, paying jobs in this country alone. If these paid-internship or graduate scheme jobs replaced unpaid internships, then perhaps this generation would have a better chance of moving out of their parent’s home before the age of 30 years old.
Going to university is starting to become a bit of a con, unless you are graduating in law, engineering, dentistry or a trade, but graduating with a general Business, History or English degree and you can forget it. Not only do companies seek unpaid interns, they also seek the ultimate unpaid intern. They used to be happy with an unpaid intern making a good cup of coffee or tea; now they want you to be able to fly to the moon and back, do ten back-flips and save the world all in under 10 minutes.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
Five days ago, on 31 January 2013, Buzz Feed, posted an article that sparked more than just interest but a world-wide acknowledgment of unpaid interns in not only New York but London and Paris too. Intern Labor Rights, a division of the Occupy Wall Street movement, plans to take action and protest unpaid internships at New York Fashion Week:
Quite frankly, we’re getting such an outpouring of interest that it’s growing exponentially as we speak,” protest organizer Peter Walsh said of the first protests in New York.” Overall, these protests are for a larger movement, not just for the fashion industry, but for the rights of all workers across the arts and media industries.
Intern Labor Rights is working to improve our rights as workers. It is unjust and unfair that we have to slave away for hours for free and get nothing in return. Some people are extremely lucky to be offered a position at the end of an unpaid internship, but even then there are many people who are unable to do an unpaid internship in the first please, unless they have help from well-off parents or relatives who are able to support them throughout this unpredictable experience. The entire notion is a cycle of tricks and scams of ripping off graduates, students and other work seekers who think that these are the mandatory steps that one must take to achieve their dream job. It shouldn’t be that way and we should therefore join the movement to stop this slave labor from developing further. Encourage and educate others to stop settling to work for free, but to grab a paying job instead while you search for the fair paying opportunity and career move that we all deserve.
I hope you enjoy the article that I leave for you below that inspired mine. If you have anything you want to add such as your personal experiences, friend’s experiences, advice for people seeking work, or just an opinion on the topic, I’d love to hear it as we are all in this together!
Occupy Movement To Protest Unpaid Internships At